Let me begin this review by stating, for the record, how much I dislike the name "RuneQuest II" being applied to a rulebook other than the second edition of Chaosium's version of the game. It's a small point, to be sure, but I mention it to be honest about my frame of mind as I undertook the reading of Mongoose Publishing's updated version of this classic game, written by Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash. There was something subtly annoying about this book with the Rune of Luck on its cover, but I just couldn't place my finger on it. Whatever it was, it egged me on in looking for anything that could I could seize upon to dislike in this 200-page hardcover rulebook. Sure enough, I did find a few things I disliked, but I also found even more that I liked, which is why my initial annoyance eventually turned to pleasure.
So let's start at the beginning. Mongoose's RuneQuest II (hereafter MRQII) is presented as "a fully revised and updated edition of the classic game system originally released in 1978 and republished by Mongoose Publishing in 2006." The Roman numeral in the title is a reference to the 2006 Mongoose book, which, by all accounts, was a mess very much in need of this revision. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if it's also intended as a sly reminder of its Chaosium-published predecessor, which was probably the most successful version of RuneQuest ever published (particularly in the UK, where, during the 1980s, it rivaled and may have even surpassed D&D in popularity).
Like OpenQuest, MRQII is intended as a generic iteration of the RuneQuest rules, although, because Mongoose Publishing has the license to produce materials set in Glorantha (albeit in the Second Age), there are occasional references to and examples derived from it. In addition, the rulebook embeds the concept of runes into its presentation of magic, which, while not necessarily tying the game to a specific setting or cosmology, does at least imply one. I don't think it'd be difficult to ignore this or to re-imagine it, but it's worth noting that, much like D&D (and unlike OpenQuest), MRQII brings with it a number of assumptions about the world its rules describe.
MRQII lays claim to the heritage of the original RuneQuest in other ways as well, including those "fiddly" bits that I have kept me from fully embracing the original rules. For example, characters (as well as creatures) have hit points divided by hit location. Likewise, combat contains a great deal of detail, which probably makes it far more satisfying for players who enjoy tactical challenges but more off-putting to people like me who prefer their combat rules quick and abstract. On the other hand, MRQII's character creation is quite flavorful, giving important roles to a character's culture and previous profession to determine starting skill values. There are also some terrific random tables for determining details of the character's family, allies, enemies, contacts, rivals, and other background information.
Skills are nicely delineated, being neither as narrow and limited as those in the original RuneQuest nor as extensive as in some games. I personally think the list could have been pared down a bit more, but I imagine that we got as many skills as we did in order to ensure the rules were useful to a wide variety of fantasy settings. MRQII's advancement system is similar to that presented in OpenQuest, but with additional options for in-game training, which I prefer. As noted, combat is fairly complex, especially with the introduction of combat maneuvers -- opportunistic actions characters can take if they achieve a particularly noteworthy success on an attack or defense skill roll. With time and experience, I am sure combat can be run smoothly and enjoyably, but, as someone used to OD&D's more abstract approach, I found MRQII's combat rules somewhat intimidating.
Magic in the game is divided into Common Magic, Divine Magic, Spirit Magic, and Sorcery, all of which have antecedents in earlier versions of RuneQuest. The rules governing magic are quite straightforward and nicely differentiate the various types from one another, which is a strong point in their favor. There are also guidelines for the creation of cults, which is, to my mind, one of the key elements of what made old school RuneQuest such a unique game. I am glad to see they were included in MRQII. I was a little less enthusiastic about the introduction of feat-like powers called "heroic abilities." However, heroic abilities are explicitly presented as rewards for advancement within a cult and from undertaking HeroQuests, the latter of which was never adequately integrated into the Chaosium RQ rules, despite much talk of it. So, while I can't deny a certain degree of personal uncomfortability with abilities like these, there's a strong case to be made that their presence is fulfilling a decades-long promise Chaosium never made good on and thus needed to be included.
MRQII has a very weak bestiary, consisting of less than two dozen monsters, quite a few of which are intelligent species. There are no rules for magic items or indeed treasure of any kind beyond ordinary equipment. Neither are there any sample adventures or campaign outlines, though there are some potentially useful random encounter tables at the back of the book. For this reason, MRQII feels less complete than OpenQuest does.
I imagine that this is by design, since Mongoose uses MRQII as the "core rulebook" for several different RPGs, each of which no doubt includes its own bestiary, treasures, and other game/setting-specific rules additions/modifications. That's probably fine from a publishing point of view, but it does, I think, limit the utility of MRQII as a single-volume generic rulebook for fantasy roleplaying. On the other hand, if you're intending to purchase and use the supplementary material that Mongoose is putting out, the RuneQuest II rulebook is an excellent compendium. Its revision of the classic RQ rules is clearly and logically presented and is true to its origins, making it a worthy official successor to Steve Perrin and Ray Turney's groundbreaking 1970s game design.
Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10
Buy This If: You're looking for a clear and well presented, if slightly complex, rules system for skill-based fantasy roleplaying.
Don't Buy This If: You've already got a version of BRP with which you're satisfied or don't care for even a moderate level of rules complexity in your fantasy gaming.